Interpreting Improv

by Sarah Durham and Becca Jennings

It’s funny. It’s made up. It’s like Whose Line is it Anyway?.

If you ask most people what they know about improv, these are likely to be the kind of answers you’ll get. And they’re technically not wrong. But a real understanding of the art of improvisation goes much deeper.

This season, FST brings you three distinct improv shows, each requiring different skills, showcasing different forms, and delivering different kinds of laughs. We’re here to help you figure out which shows you most want to see, and learn what’s really going on inside the heads of the performers while you watch.

For tickets and a full list of upcoming shows, click here.

First up, we have When X Meets Y. This show falls into the category of Musical Improv.

“I love when you tell people you’re going to improvise a full two act musical they look at you like you’re nuts!” laughs cast member Chris Friday. “They wonder, ‘How is that even possible?’”

Building an entire musical on the spot takes certain skills. For example, the performers have all been trained and are following one of about five different song structures.

“They’re not flying entirely blind,” said FST Improv Founder Rebecca Hopkins. “There is an underlying structure to the music they are creating. These systems allow artists to collaborate better, anticipate their scene partners, and deliver something that works cohesively and musically on the spot.”

Denee Lortz and Andrew Deeb in When X Meets Y. Photo by Matthew Holler.

And much like a classical theatre artist must study Shakespeare, musical improvisers must study various musical genres.

“There’s a big difference between a Broadway musical number and a rock ballad in terms of how they’re built,” said Hopkins. “In order to authentically deliver, you have to study the form.”

Following When X Meets Y is the audience favorite show Life’s a Beach. Life’s a Beach falls into the category of Short-Form Improv. You’ll know its Short Form if you spot a series of small (and short) games, songs, and maybe an audience volunteer or two. In Short Form Improv, games provide the structure—the framework for each scene. But there are also underlying rules to improv.

“The biggest rule most people recognize is ‘Yes, and…’” said Hopkins. “Many people mistakenly interpret this as meaning you can’t say ‘no’ or disagree on stage. But what it really means is that you can’t block the offer of your scene partner.”

Life’s a Beach includes a series of games and skits that poke fun at what makes Sarasota, Sarasota—featuring everything from roundabouts and dogs in strollers to the great annual snowbird migration.

Charles Gooch, Natasha Samreny, Kathryn Parks, Kyle Showmaker, and Autumn Steiner. Photo by Matthew Holler.

This April, we’re also featuring a one-night-only improv showdown: Tournament of Fools.

Featuring some of our most seasoned improvisers, Tournament of Fools pits performers against each other to determine who will win the coveted comedy crown.

“At this level of improvising, you’re looking for such skills as, ‘Finding the game within the game,’” explained Hopkins. “You might see a bird in one scene, and someone picks up on that, and suddenly there is a bird in every scene. You discover and capitalize on a creative motif.”

But unlike most competitions, Tournament of Fools has a trick up its sleeve. At the end of the performance, the contestants are all really teammates working to support each other.

“Basically, when you ‘lose,’ you really win because you helped your fellow cast mate succeed,” said contestant Kevin Allen.

So, whether you’re in the mood for a fully-improvised musical, a night of improv potpourri, or a seriously skillful comedy showdown, there’s something for everyone this season at FST Improv.

See if you can spot the tools the improvisers take into a scene the next time you’re with us. Because inside an improviser’s mind it’s not all just a comedy free-for-all. They’re just making it look easy.

For tickets and a full list of upcoming shows, click here.